Son Marroig in Deya | MDB files

On June 27, 2011, Unesco announced six new sites that had been inscribed on its World Heritage List. On the official announcement, there at number four was The Cultural Landscape of the Serra de Tramuntana (Spain).

The blurb stated that this landscape is “located on a sheer-sided mountain range parallel to the northwestern coast of Mallorca”. It went on: “Millennia of agriculture in an environment with scarce resources have transformed the terrain and display an articulated network of devices for the management of water revolving around farming units of feudal origins. The landscape is marked by agricultural terraces and interconnected water works - including water mills - as well as dry stone constructions and farms.”

Serra de Tramuntana in Mallorca

The keys to the Unesco declaration were culture and landscape. Mountain ranges in themselves don’t qualify. They are physical heritage in that they are there and are not about to disappear. The Tramuntana range is hardly unique in this regard. In terms of the height of the peaks, it isn’t much to write home about. But it is what was done to this physical presence that matters.

Culture, or rather cultures, intervened. They created a landscape within that of the peaks that form a landscape seen from afar. The cultural heritage is that of man’s shaping of the mountain landscape. The labouring that made the terraces, the paths, the hydraulics; this is inherent to the landscape, and it was labouring that united cultures, even if they - Christian and Muslim - were determined not to be united.

Lluc monastery

To mark the tenth anniversary, the Balearic Symphony Orchestra is performing today (June 29) at the Charterhouse in Valldemossa. Otherwise, the anniversary will be an occasion to highlight specifics of the mountains. The Charterhouse is one of them. There are so many more: Lluc Sanctuary, Ramon Llull’s Miramar, the Archduke Louis Salvador’s Son Marroig; the Soller tram and train; the Cuber and Gorg Blau reservoirs; the Sa Foradada peninsula; the Formentor lighthouse; the Castell del Rei; Cala Deya; the Torrent de Pareis. One could go on ... .

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Just from this list, one can appreciate that the development of landscape has extended to current times. The reservoirs, which might be said to have been destructive, have enhanced the landscape. The same can be said for the roads that serve Sa Calobra and Formentor and for railway and tramline. And amidst all this, there is the evidence of the millennia of agriculture - the olives, the oranges, the terraces for grapes.

Sa Foradada in Deya

These millennia of agriculture, acknowledged and indeed revered by Unesco, are nevertheless a reflection of the harshness of the mountains. While there are profits to be derived from the likes of the orange trade, the general level of agricultural profitability in the Tramuntana is low by comparison with elsewhere in Mallorca. The flat land of Sa Pobla, as an example, is way easier to farm, maintain and exploit than the slopes of the mountains. Profit generated from the growing of potatoes is enhanced by an efficiency of cultivation that is more difficult in the mountains.

Much of the talk surrounding the tenth anniversary concerns profitability and so also the financial support for landowners and the innumerable regulations. In this regard, and purely from an economic point of view, has the Unesco declaration made any real difference? There is an imperative to maintain the land and to recover that which has been abandoned, but then there always was. And the economics can imply tensions between preservation and conservation on the one hand and demand that threatens both preservation and conservation on the other. There are no prizes for guessing what this demand is. Tourism.

Tramuntana mountains

In the mountains, there is no shortage of examples of what we are constantly reminded must be sustainable tourism. Lovingly restored agrotourism, finca hotels, the dry stone route, but how often do we hear about issues that can undermine this? And they aren’t solely ones of foreign tourism. There are resident tourists who “massify” Lluc with their cars when it snows; there can be “saturation” of hikers in certain parts of the mountains; the motorbike races; the litter discarded on walks.

Much is still being said, ten years on from the declaration, about the need to spread the word about the Tramuntana. I’m not so sure. It seems to me that the declaration has contributed greatly to a knowledge of the mountains. But this hasn’t always been for the best. Hence why there are calls for limits. The Formentor road is a prime example; the tensions are those of overload. The mountains, for all they are mighty and immovable, are also delicate. Load capacity - the number of people, the number of vehicles - is an issue, as also is the degree to which visitors really value the culture and therefore contribute to the much-needed profitability.

Ten years from now, and one suspects that the talk will be much the same as it is today - how to improve profitability, how to guarantee sustainability, how to make people truly appreciate what they’ve got.